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AARP Movies for Grownups Awards Commemorates 20-Year Milestone

From modest idea to PBS telecast, the awards ceremony grew into an Oscar bellwether

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AARP launched the annual Movies for Grownups Awards to encourage more movies starring, and made for, people over 50. “It was time to challenge Hollywood’s perspective on aging,” says AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. “We hoped the awards would ignite a cultural change.” And perhaps they did. Today, 5 of the 10 all-time top-grossing actors are over 50 (average age 66), and far more movies reflect — and respect — the grownup experience. The awards keep evolving, too: Last year, new and expanded categories for TV were added.​ ​

Movies for Grownups grew from a magazine story in 2002 to an intimate dinner in a Los Angeles hotel to an event telecast on PBS Great Performances. Its once 10-foot red carpet grew exponentially longer, packed with press and a starry parade. “It’s a vital stop on the awards season circuit,” says top Hollywood awards strategist Lea Yardum of Perception PR.​ ​

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After Angela Lansbury cohosted the first ceremony, the trickle of stars became a flood: Robert Redford, Colin Firth, Jodie Foster, George Clooney. Sean Penn scribbled — apparently at the last minute — an eloquent speech honoring Robert De Niro. Sharon Stone fought back tears as Martin Scorsese presented her career achievement award.​ ​

Sometimes nonstars got the biggest ovations, such as heroic pilot Sully Sullenberger, who inspired Clint Eastwood’s Sully, and Ken Sturdy, 97, veteran of the battle that inspired Dunkirk.​ ​

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Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren at the 2017 AARP Movies for Grownups award show.
Photo by Ari Michelson

Presenting Morgan Freeman with the 2017 career achievement award, Helen Mirren smooched him and he said, “I want the world to know that I’m in love with Helen Mirren!” And when Mirren won the same honor in 2018, Gary Oldman — winner of the best-actor award that year — confessed that he always had been in love with her. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she said. The Los Angeles Times rated Movies for Grownups one of its “favorite ceremonies of award season ... a decorated but casual romp featuring living legends indulging in an open bar.”​ 

And the honored stars testified time and again that aging was getting downright acceptable. “I’m 50, and I kinda like it,” said Renée Zellweger. “This is the best time of life!” said Dick Van Dyke at 90.​ ​

The annual Movies for Grownups Awards will continue to advocate for talent and viewers over 50, and raise funds for AARP Foundation, AARP’s affiliated charity, which helps 50-plus Americans transform their lives through programs, services and vigorous legal advocacy. The foundation works to increase economic opportunity and social connections to prevent and reduce senior poverty.​

This story was updated to reflect the 20th anniversary year of Movies for Grownups.

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